The AFC East has essentially been run by the same team for over 15 years. The New England Patriots have dominated the division season after season, riding on the success of the most prolific quarterback this league has ever known and a head coach who always seems to be three steps ahead of the rest of the NFL.
That being said, each team in the division, the Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and our Miami Dolphins, have their strengths and weaknesses. Over the offseason, I’ll be giving an overview of each position on each team, and ranking them according to skill and depth. Today, we review the safety position.
4) Buffalo Bills
Colt Anderson (PUP)
B.T. Sanders (R)
WHAT?! We have an AFC East Position Power Rankings and the Jets are not at the bottom? Well, with Gang Green committing a questionable amount of draft resources to the safety position, the Bills are left with the weakest safety depth chart in the division.
That said, Buffalo isn’t barren at the position. One of the team’s best free agent acquisitions, Micah Hyde, projects to begin the year at strong safety. Over the past four seasons, Hyde played in 63 of 64 possible games with the Green Bay Packers, acting as a swiss army knife of sorts who is capable of lining up at multiple spots in the secondary.
Starting across of Hyde will most likely be former Cleveland Browns free safety Jordan Poyer. Poyer played well in 2015 and was on track to have a decent year in 2016, as he started every game for the first six weeks of the season before suffering a lacerated kidney. Still young and developing, Hyde and Poyer have a chance to form into a strong duo at the position.
What hurts this unit is a lack of depth. The team brought back former Bill and Dolphin Bacarri Rambo who can play when called upon, but he has shown a lack of ability in coverage. The rest of the group has very limited in-game experience and may struggle if forced onto the field.
3) New York Jets
Jamal Adams (R)
Marcus Maye (R)
In this year’s draft, the Jets spent both of their first and second round picks on top tier talents at the safety position. Outside of Myles Garrett, Jamal Adams was arguably the best player in the draft and could prove to be a steal despite the Jets spending the sixth overall selection on him.
Marcus Maye, the team’s second round pick, was touted as one of the best all-around defensive backs in the draft. Scouts took note of his rare combination of physicality and instincts, while also praising his athleticism and reliability as a tackler.
It’s always dangerous to count on rookies to acclimate to the NFL right off the bat, but if the young duo manages to live up to the hype, the Jets could boast one of the top safety combinations in the league. While their safety unit as a whole lacks any noteworthy depth players, the undeniable skill and potential of their starting duo is what puts them over the top of their counterparts in Upstate New York.
2) Miami Dolphins
Maurice Smith (R)
T.J. McDonald (SUSP)
The Dolphins have a bona fide star at the safety position in Reshad Jones. Over seven seasons in South Florida, Jones has proven to be one of the most physical, sure-tackling, and instinctual defensive backs in the league. His superb play has culminated in the top tier defender earning a five-year $60,000,000 contract extension this offseason, meaning Jones will be playing in Miami for years to come.
In 2015, Jones placed in the top five in the league for tackles with 135 and tied for sixth in interceptions with 5. He was on pace for another Pro Bowl season last year until a torn rotator cuff cut his 2016 campaign short. Now healthy again, Jones is aiming for a strong comeback season in South Beach.
Lining up across from Jones is former Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders safety Nate Allen. Allen was a regular starter for the Eagles before becoming a rotational defender for the Raiders. Going into his 8th season in the NFL, the Dolphins hope he can feed off of Jones’ playmaking ability to help hold down the defensive backfield, although the team is no doubt banking on a bit of a career resurgence from the 29 year old safety.
The safety unit will, however, get a boost midseason when budding talent T.J. McDonald returns from an eight-game suspension. While with the Rams, McDonald was one of the hardest hitters in the league, yet he was also capable of making plays on the football, coming up with 6 passes defended and 2 interceptions last season. The duo of Jones and McDonald projects to be one of the scarier defensive backfields in the league for the latter half of 2017.
1) New England Patriots
Damarius Travis (R)
Jason Thompson (R)
Dwayne Thomas (R)
Kenny Moore (R)
David Jones (R)
Aside from the fact that New England has one of the longer safety depth charts in the league, and easily the longest in the division, they also have one of the most talented units in the NFL. Starting strong safety Patrick Chung has been as reliable as they come over the past 3 seasons in New England, playing 47 of 48 possible games for the team. Over that span he’s accumulated over 50 tackles each year along with 20 total passes defended. While those may not be gaudy numbers, they speak to Chung’s consistency on a roster that is constantly churning through players.
The only safety on the team that has been more impressive and dependable is Chung’s partner in crime over at free safety, Devin McCourty. McCourty has played 107 of 112 possible games over 7 seasons with the Patriots and has started all 107 times. While locking down Belichick's defensive backfield, McCourty has averaged just over 10 passes defended and 76 tackles per season on top of 19 total interceptions and 8 forced fumbles. With both Chung and McCourty still in the prime of their careers, this unit looks to have its two leaders playing at a high level for the foreseeable future.
The depth of the position is fortified by the likes of Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner. Harmon has become more involved on defense and has improved as a defensive back over the past two seasons, making most of his contributions when the Patriots are lined up in nickel and dime packages. Ebner has made the most out of his limited playing time on special teams, making a name for himself as one of the top special team tacklers in the league alongside teammate Matthew Slater.
Previous AFC East Position Power Rankings